Lately, I have been quite interested in authors from the Balkans. Living in the UK and speaking and writing in English can sometimes feel a bit alienating from my home country and language. After reading Lana Bastasic and Bekim Serjanovic’s work that I thoroughly enjoyed, I have decided to give a Macedonian author Rumena Buzarovska a chance and I can say that I did not regret it. Her collection of short stories titled ‘My Husband’ was very readable and understandable, but in no way banal or without value. Although I read it in English, rather than Serbian,(as I cannot read Macedonian) I can say that there is a strong presence of culture and attitudes that are prevalent in the Balkans. Overall, I would say this is one of the most successful collection of short stories I read in a long time.
A lot of times when I read collection of short stories one of the biggest criticisms I have is the overall theme of the collection, be it because it is so arbitrary and narrow that it does not allow the author’s creativity or quite the opposite. However, in this collection that is one of the aspects I enjoyed the most. All the stories are connected through their perspective; they are told in the voice of women talk about their husbands and marriages. Some of them are funny and relatable, while some are heartbreaking, (This reviewer teared up at ‘Lily’) but they are all realistic and stayed in my mind after reading them. This multitude of women’s voices unapologetically sharing their points of view and understanding of the situation they are in was quite empowering, although our narrators were often not the most reliable or stable individuals.
Her focus are not the happy housewives who love their lives, but rather the opposite. She dares to write about women who do not love their children, hate their husband’s art, are tired and disappointed. In that sense, any other type of style other than the sharp and precise one, released from all romanticization and even emotions would not have been as effective. Buzarovska goes straight to the point and strips her prose from any unnecessary details and digressions, leaving only the core of these stories, with just enough information to still understand the context and the characters. Still, the eleven stories in ‘My Husband’ are not emotionless, far from it. Author respects her readers enough to know we do not need to be told everything, but provides enough to cause us to feel for the people in her stories, even if we do not always like or agree with them. The emotions I felt while reading this collection were not pleasant, but they were very much present.
As already mentioned, stories are told from perspectives of multiple women who are talking about their husband and unhappy marriages. After a while, a lot of these women began to look and sound the same and at first I was a bit taken aback by this. However, looking back I believe that there is enough distinction in them to make them their own people. While they are all unhappy in their own ways, their socioeconomic standing, attitudes towards their living situations and the actual plot of the story made them different and interesting enough to keep reading and finish the collection. I really enjoyed the fact that women were not presented as saints and flawless creatures, but quite the opposite. They are insecure, brash, cruel, adulteresses, spiteful, petty; often times the villains of their own stories. These women are also victims of the patriarchal society, often unable to leave the husbands and the desperation leads them to committing horrible acts.
All that being said, I can understand the criticism that I have seen on Goodreads that the stories are a bit repetitive, but I think that the similiarities between the stories only serve to show that this is not a unique experience, but rather almost the norm in patriarchal society. Although I did grow up in a healthy family, the sense that I have heard these stories in my real life environment filled me with sense of dread and frustration. Male characters in these stories are not well developed, as they are described only through eyes and mouth of women whose feelings about them are not the best. However, I think that that also adds to the feeling of universality of these stories and comment on the toxicity within such a patriarchal society where women have little to no choices and are harshly judged. What do you think about this idea? Do you agree or do you think that the stories are a bit repetitive?
Finally, I am very happy that I read this collection. Some of the stories were less successful and less convicing than others (My Husband, the Poet was one of the rare stories I did not really enjoy) but I believe that overall it is a strong collection of short stories tied around a compelling theme. Buzarovska’s strong and unrellenting style in combination with the plots and characters that are very life like make it such. Coming from the culture extremely similiar to the one depicted in the book, I connected with them on a personal level, but I do not think that you have to be from the Balkans to understand and feel this collection. I would honestly recommend ‘My Husband’ by Rumena Buzarovska to anyone, regardless of where you are from and how you define yourself. Did you read this book? What did you think about it?